Exploring Brain-Based Needs (Guest Blogger Larry K. Brendtro)

(I’m blessed to know people who are great bloggers (writers) and are willing to let me share their work with people who appreciate growth and development. Today’s guest article is by Larry K. Brendtro, a terrific writer, and one of the founders of CF Learning. Dr. Brendtro is a psychologist and special educator whose work on positive youth development, resilience, and peer culture shifted the perspectives and practices thousands of youth organizations. His post about one of my heroes,  Abraham Maslow, revealed details I thought were essential for understanding how positive growth can survive adversity. More information about Dr. Brendtro is available on his website.)

The leading pioneer in research on developmental needs was Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Ironically, as a youth, he was deprived of positive support from his own parents, peers, and teachers. His father Samuel escaped from an unhappy home in Russia by sailing alone to America when only fourteen. Becoming a barrel maker in Brooklyn, he perpetuated poor parenting of his seven children with comments like, “Isn’t Abe the ugliest kid you’ve ever seen?” Maslow’s mother hurled more hostility, and later in life, he would describe “her total selfishness, her lack of love for anyone else in the world, even her own husband and children.”[1] Yet Maslow surmounted the shaky self-esteem of his childhood by recognizing that his parents were products of an unhappy upbringing.

As a youth, Maslow experienced frequent anti-Semitic attacks, so he joined a gang of Jewish boys for protection. But, these peers rejected him when he refused to participate in their cruel activities. “I couldn’t throw rocks at girls and I couldn’t kill cats so I was ruled out of the gang.”[2] At school, he was treated contemptuously by many teachers, but one made a remarkable difference with her warmth. “I was just ready to love anybody,” Maslow recalled.[3] Such traumatic early experiences strengthened Maslow’s empathy for others. As a young psychologist, he studied Blackfoot Indians on a reserve in Ontario. He was profoundly impressed with the spirit of respect and generosity that permeated child-rearing in this indigenous culture.

In a classic 1943 article, Maslow proposed that psychological health depended on meeting innate human needs.[4] Generations later, he is still among the most cited psychologists of all time. This staying power is because he could translate complex social and biological information into profound but simple concepts. Modern research supports his hypothesis that the human brain is endowed with innate drives to meet biosocial needs for belongingness, esteem, self-actualization, and self-transcendence.[5] These principles are validated by decades of subsequent studies including Stanley Coopersmith’s foundations of self-esteem, Martin Brokenleg’s Circle of Courage values, and Ann Masten’s brain modules for resilience.[6]

The Model of Leadership and Service developed in 2008 by CF Learning also includes four similar biosocial needs, but additionally identifies needs for safety and adventure. Safety was a survival need in Maslow’s hierarchy. Further, Maslow’s 1964 discussion of peak experiences has parallels with adventure as “exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences.”[7] For an extended discussion of this idea and practice, read my article The Dueling Needs for Safety and Adventure here.

1.  Hoffman, E. (1988). The right to be human: A biography of Abraham Maslow. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, p. 9.

2.  Hoffman 1988, p. 4.

3.  Hoffman, 1988, p. 4.

4.  Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.

5.  Koltko-Rivera, M. (2006). Rediscovering the later version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Self-transcendence and opportunities for theory, research, and unification. Review of General Psychology, 10(2), 302-317.

6.  Brendtro, L., & Mitchell, M. (2015). Deep brain learning: Evidence-based essentials in education, treatment, and youth development. Albion, MI: Starr Commonwealth.

7.  Corsini, R. (1998). Encyclopedia of psychology. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, p. 21.

Cesaria Evora

Cesaria Evora

The Barefoot Diva

Cesária Évora (1941-2011) from Mindelo in the tiny Cape Verde islands of Senegal, and hailed as one of the most influential black voices in the world, is recognized as a mentor by several singers, including Fantcha, who was also born in Mindelo, Lura, also from Cape Verde, Mayra Andrade, the Cuban-born singer, and Sara Tavares, who was born in Lisbon.

Cesária sang barefoot—becoming known as ‘The Barefoot Diva—and in a style called morna, a slow ballad, typically about love, sorrow and history. Her recorded music and live performances garnered an audience around the world, and captured the hearts of millions of fans with her catchy songs made for dancing or expressing laments, and singing the blues.

Her own rise to fame and world recognition came after a considerable struggle to rise out of the poverty of her youth. She had a long history of health problems and had gone through several operations including open heart surgery in 2010. She returned to performing soon after her surgery, but in late 2011 while in Paris, her own mentor, Jose da Silva, a record producer, and her doctors noticed how weak she had become and told her she needed to give up her career and curtail her international travel. She had to cancel scheduled concerts in Armenia, Romania, France, Switzerland, and the U.K.

At the age of 70 she told an interviewer for Le Monde, “I have no strength, no energy. I want you to say to my fans: I’m sorry, but now I must rest. I deeply regret having to take time off for illness, I wanted to give more pleasure to those who have followed me for so long. But life goes on. I came to you. I did my best. I’ve had a career that many would have wished for.”

The Cape Verdean government declared a national mourning for 48 hours after her death. She will be greatly missed and her legacy lives on in those she mentored.